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Acute Silicosis

  • Definition

    Silicosis is a lung disease. It is caused by breathing dust that contains crystalline silica. In acute silicosis, the disease occurs after just weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of the silica. This is a serious condition. Contact your doctor immediately if you think you may have it.
  • Causes

    Crystalline silica can be found in:
    • Concrete
    • Masonry
    • Sandstone
    • Rock
    • Paint
    • Other abrasives
    • Soil
    • Mortar
    • Plaster
    • Shingles
    When these materials are cut, broken, crushed, drilled, ground, or blasted, silica dust may be produced.
    When silica dust gets into the air you breathe, it may become trapped in your lungs. The dust builds up damages your lungs. More dust will create more damage. This will make it hard for you to breathe.
    Pathway to Lungs
    Respiratory Pathway
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  • Risk Factors

    Working in the following occupations increases your chance of acute silicosis:
    • Sandblasting (the most common cause of acute silicosis)
    • Construction
    • Wrecking and demolition
    • Abrasive blasting
    • Masonry
    • Concrete finishing
    • Drywall finishing
    • Rock drilling
    • Stone milling or cutting
    • Mining
    • Sand and gravel screening
    • Rock crushing (for road base)
    • Agriculture
    • Ceramics, clay, pottery
    • Glass manufacturing
    • Vitreous enameling of china plumbing fixtures
    • Manufacturing of soaps and detergents
    • Shipyards, railroads
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may appear within a few weeks to two years after exposure. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to this condition. These may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Severe cough
    • Weakness
    • Fever
    • Weight loss
    • Night sweats
    • Chest pains
    • Respiratory failure
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will also be asked about your work history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include the following:
    Peak Flow Meter—Pulmonary Function Test
    Lung test
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  • Treatment

    There is no specific treatment for silicosis. If you have acute silicosis, you will be advised to avoid additional exposure. Your doctor may also treat other conditions associated with acute silicosis. These may include heart disease and TB. You will also be advised to stop smoking .
  • Prevention

    If your job puts you at risk of being exposed to silica dust, take the following steps to help prevent silicosis:
    • Avoid working in dust whenever possible.
    • Use water sprays and ventilation when working in confined structures. (eg, wet dust with a water hose, use saws and drills that add water)
    • If applicable, wear your respirator designed for protection against crystalline silica. You cannot have a beard or mustache if you use a tight-fitting respiratory. Your employer may provide the mask.
    • Take advantage of health screenings offered by your employer.
    • Practice good personal hygiene in the workplace.
    • Do not eat, drink, or use tobacco near dusty areas.
    • After exposure to dust, wash your hands before eating, drinking, or smoking.
    • Park your car where it will not become contaminated.
    • Shower and change before leaving work.

    Nationals Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

    US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


    Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety

    Canadian Lung Association


    Silicosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed November 28, 2006.

    Silicosis: learn the facts! National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website. Available at: Accessed November 28, 3006.

    What physicians need to know about occupational silicosis and silica exposure sources. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed November 28, 3006.

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